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Our Father in heaven, our good, gracious God, come now, dwell among us through the preaching of Your Word. Teach, reprove, correct, rebuke, train in righteousness so that we may be competent for every good work. Speak to us through these few words, just the word that each one of us needs to hear. Perhaps what we need to hear tonight or what we need to have lodged into our head and our heart for the future. We pray for out sakes and for yours. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Sermon on the Mount is relentless, isn’t it? There is no letting up, each week, each verse, each paragraph, Jesus tells us another hard thing, it seems, for our lives. Last week Eric Russ preached so well and powerfully about lust. You think, well, good, can we get a breather? Can we get something easy? Something not controversial, something simple. Well, Jesus goes right in to divorce.
Two verses tonight, just two verses, Matthew chapter 5:31 and 32.
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
There are a lot of ways to approach a sermon on divorce, so let me tell you from the beginning that this is not going to be a general, cover-all-the bases, everything that needs to be said pastorally and theologically about divorce. I’ve preached sermons like that before, I’ve written on that before, and if you want more, don’t come running up now. I’ll put this out here later. This is a sermon on divorce and remarriage, seven biblical principles that I did years ago. I’ll put it, there’s 50 copies here. You can also go to KevinDeYoung.org and search for divorce and you can find it there.
Those seven biblical principles are these.
Number 1 – Marriage is the sacred union between one man and one woman and God’s intention is for marriage to last a lifetime.
Principle number 2 – Divorce is not always sinful.
Number 3 – Divorce is permitted but not required on the ground of sexual immorality.
Number 4 – Divorce is permitted but not required on the ground of desertion by an unbelieving spouse.
Number 5 – When the divorce was not permissible, any subsequent remarriage (other than to each other) results in adultery.
Number 6 – In situations where the divorce was permissible, remarriage is also permissible.
Number 7 – Improperly divorced and remarried Christians should stay as they are but repent and be forgiven of their past sins and make whatever amends are necessary.
So you can, if you want, that was my attempt years ago to try to say, “Here’s what needs to be said in a variety of different directions about divorce.” I’m going to overlap just a little bit, but that’s not the sermon that I’m giving tonight.
Now I understand that whenever you speak about a topic like divorce, there’s people who are listening who are simply curious, and your marriage may feel great and you just want to hear what the teaching is going to be. Others have been divorced, others are divorced. Others here divorced and remarried. Others in family with a step-mom or step-dad. Or a single parent. There’s all sorts of experiences and our church is going to have all of those. So I encourage you to read through that sermon, that article, if you want to get the fuller picture.
But in order to do justice to this text, I think it’s important that a preacher preach not just the content of that passage, but the mood of that passage. While it is certainly appropriate when speaking about divorce to at times want to speak very compassionately, tenderly, to those who have endured divorce, perhaps through no fault of their own, and to reassure of God’s love and forgiveness, all of that is very appropriate.
This passage, however, Jesus is giving a warning. He is giving a warning to those who think that divorce is something trivial. He is speaking to those in that context who are communicating, in essence, some religious teachers will tell you that divorce is not a big deal, but Jesus says, “I’m here to tell you it is a very big deal.”
Just like He was admonishing His disciples to avoid anger and lust, so, too, He’s admonishing His disciples and the crowd to avoid divorce. So my aim, if it is to be resonant with Jesus’ aim, is to warn against divorce, knowing that there are all sorts of experiences where you may be listening to this message.
Our outline is simple. Jesus confronted His hearers with two potential failures. First, a failure to consider the seriousness of divorce, and two, a failure to consider the ramifications of divorce. That’s what His disciples needed to hear about divorce and I am quite confident it is what we still need to hear about divorce.
Believe it or not, they had a relatively permissive culture when it came to divorce. You certainly know that in our day we have a relatively permissive culture. Sometimes the Church is criticized, and we might even say fairly at times, for speaking so loudly and clearly against other sins which seem to be safely away from us, and then not speaking very clearly or boldly when it comes to sinful divorce, because so many Christians are implicated in it.
So we want to do justice to what Jesus says here and look at these two points and then we will finish by relating it, just briefly, to the next section on oaths. I won’t go into that too far. One of our interns, Andrew Lingg, will be preaching on that next Sunday. But there is a connection between divorce and making oaths, and I hope you can already see the connection in your head.
So first. Jesus confronts His hearers, and us, with a failure to consider the seriousness of divorce.
Look at verse 31. It’s a loose quotation of Deuteronomy 24, verse 1. It’s a loose quotation and Jesus, as He does throughout this section, is not saying that the Mosaic Law was wrong and He wants to overturn the Mosaic Law, but He is pointing to several ways in which the oral traditions and the teaching building up around the Mosaic Law have gone astray. So when He says, “It was said to you” and He quotes from the Bible, He’s not saying “and your Bible was wrong,” He’s saying, “How people have used this has proven to be incorrect.” We’ll see that in just a moment.
So turn to Deuteronomy, chapter 24, verse 1. This is the instruction in the Mosaic Law relative to divorce. Like many things in the Old Testament that were not ideal, they were still regulated, and here we have laws concerning divorce. Verse 1, Deuteronomy 24.
“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.”
This envisions a complicated situation in which a man, and the instructions from Moses and the instructions from Jesus, are given with respect to the man as the one in that culture who would have been filing the certificate of divorce. We can appropriate it in our culture where women can do the same. But he envisions this scenario where a man divorces his wife and then she’s remarried and then that husband divorces her and then, or he dies, and can they get remarried, he says no, because she’s already been with another.
That’s not the issue that we need to deal with so much as we need to look at verse 1. The rabbi said a man must give her a certificate of divorce if adultery took place. Many rabbis thought divorce was permissible for even relatively trivial offenses. You see verse 1, the key phrase that was debated among the rabbis, is there translated in the ESV, “He has found some indecency,” some indecency, or something indecent. In Hebrew it’s the phrase “er-wat dabar.” “Er-wat” can literally be translated “nakedness” and “dabar” means “word” or “matter” or “thing.” A matter of nakedness. Or translated here, something indecent, something suggestive of a sexual nature.
But the Jews found it to be an ambiguous phrase, and indeed, it is somewhat ambiguous, something indecent, which is why they argued so much about it. It’s an unusual phrase, but it’s used just a chapter earlier in Deuteronomy 23. So if you look back, Deuteronomy 23, verse 12, and I told you this morning, the Bible is earthy at times, “You shall have a place outside the camp, and you shall go out to it. And you shall have a trowel with your tools, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig a hole with it and turn back and cover up your excrement. Because the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and to give up your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that you may not,” here’s the phrase, “see anything indecent among you.” Er-wat dabar, “anything indecent among you and turn away from you.”
So there it has to do with relieving yourself. Again, there’s something of the context of nakedness and what is dirty and defiled.
So in a general sense, er-wat dabar means something that is repulsive, something defiling, something indecent. But it’s not a precise phrase, and because of that ambiguity, two different rabbinical schools emerged with two different interpretations. On the more conservative side was the Shammai school, S-h-a-m-m-a-i, named after a famous rabbi, Shammai. And on the other hand the more liberal school, named after Hillel. Both were well-known around the time of Jesus. We don’t have record of this until later, after the time of Jesus and the Mishnah, but they were both well-known at the time of Jesus.
Here’s what the Mishnah, which is a later document of rabbinical sources, says: “The school of Shammai says a man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her, for it is written because he hath found in her indecency in anything.” Indecency in anything. That’s a reference to Deuteronomy 24:1, so that’s the school of Shammai interpreting Deuteronomy 24:1 as unchastity.
The Mishnah continues: “The school of Hillel says he may divorce her even if she spoiled a dish for him, for it is written because he hath found in her indecency in anything.”
Both schools are quoting from the same verse in Deuteronomy 24:1, er-wat dabar, something indecent. This is not a joke. The Hillel school went so far as to say burning a piece of toast, spoiling a dish, not doing the food correctly, could be construed as something indecent and would give the man a right to file for a certificate of divorce. That was the much more liberal, permissive school of rabbis. The Shammai school was much more restrictive.
No doubt, something of this debate, which was well-known in the first century, plays into Jesus’ comments here in Matthew chapter 5 and later in Matthew 19, when they come up and ask Jesus specifically about divorce. Jesus doesn’t say, “Well, I’m with this rabbi or that rabbi,” but clearly He is coming down on the side of the more restrictive, the more conservative, Shammai school. He rejects the understanding of the Hillel rabbi that divorce is permissible for anything as small as a spoiled dish. That’s what Jesus means when He says, “It’s been said to you.” Now that’s the Old Testament, but He understands there is a whole school of interpretation of some Jewish teachers who said for just about anything that the husband finds offensive, he can file for a divorce.
Jesus says clearly, “That is not so. Divorce is not permissible for every reason. It is not required for any reason.”
Jesus says, now go back to Matthew chapter 5, “But I say to you… ” Now understanding that context and the rabbinical dispute, throws into context what Jesus is saying: “But I say to you that everyone divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery.”
So Jesus here allows for one exception. Now later in the epistles Paul allows for a second exception, which is the desertion of an unbelieving spouse, and those two are enshrined into the Westminster Confession of Faith, allowing divorce for those two reasons: Marital unfaithfulness and desertion by an unbelieving spouse. On those permissions only, then, remarriage is also permissible.
But let’s deal what Jesus says here: “Except on the ground of sexual immorality.” There’s that Greek word you heard last week, “porneias,” from which we get our word “pornography.” So broadly speaking, all manner of sexual immorality, that is an allowance, but not a requirement, an allowance for divorce.
Why sexual sin in particular? Sexual sin is grounds for divorce because the act of sexual intimacy is the oath signing, the ratification, of the covenant of marriage. The book of Malachi informs us that marriage is a type of covenant, an agreement between two parties. Like most covenants in the ancient world, covenants are enacted with both oaths, vows, promises, and then a sign to signify and to seal that covenant. Signs and seals.
So we think of our sacraments, and they have certain oaths and promises that God’s made. Think about what we’ve seen in Genesis with the sign of circumcision and the covenant with Abraham. God makes promises and then He signs that and He ratifies it with the sign of circumcision.
Well, marriage is like that. Why do you come before God and these witnesses in a marriage ceremony and you make promises? Because that’s one part of the covenant-making ceremony. Public promises. What’s the second part of making marriage a marriage? Well, it’s what happens later. It’s the act of sexual intimacy.
You maybe heard me say this before. Why is it that, pastor, I’ve said this so many times and you’ve seen it, and now they’ve exchanged vows, rings, and now you may kiss the bride. And the guy gets all, he always looks a little too excited and makes everyone a little nervous, and does a big dip and everyone oohs and aahs and claps. Why do you do that? Do the parents want to see that? Does anyone want to see that?
Well, the reason you do that is because you don’t want to see the whole thing. Marriage is a covenant, which takes an oath and an oath-ratifying ceremony. Well, we don’t have to be there for the whole oath-ratifying ceremony, though at different parts in Church history they went so far and it was the duty of the best man to be in the room for the oath-ratifying ceremony. Good we can leave some things from the past behind.
But you just do a kiss, okay? We’ll take their word for it, the rest is going to come. Because a covenant of marriage comes together with those vows and with that ratification ceremony.
Which is why Jesus can say, “You don’t get a divorce, but here’s an exception.”
If you, you know, when you have to purchase something, when you have to sign on a loan, when you enter into a contract with someone, you sign your name on the dotted line. If you have sex with someone other than your spouse, you are signing on the dotted line with the wrong person. By that act, you are rendering potentially null and void your original ratification.
Now it doesn’t have to be, and many such cases of one spouse cheats on another, and the one who was cheated on nevertheless says “I still love you and I want to work to forgive you and we want to work this out,” and they stay together and that’s a wonderful triumph. It doesn’t always work that way. Jesus allows that it doesn’t always work that way because sexual sin is such a serious sin because it fundamentally severs the covenant union that was ratified in the act of sexual intimacy.
So that’s the exception. But Jesus says apart from that, you stay married. It’s fascinating. In Matthew 19, the Pharisees come up to Jesus and they want to talk about grounds for divorce. Jesus wants to talk about the sanctity of marriage. He reinforces. Sometimes people say, “Well, we don’t really know. I mean, we don’t really know what Jesus would think about marriage. Jesus doesn’t define marriage.”
Well, He does. In Matthew 19, He says, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh so they are no longer two but one flesh. What God has joined together let no one separate.” Jesus affirms, clearly, the Genesis account not just as descriptive, but prescriptive for marriage.
So you can’t set Jesus aside and say, “Well, you know, this marriage stuff. That comes from the Old Testament or Paul, but Jesus…” Well, no, Jesus says clearly, “I am reaffirming everything that Genesis teaches about marriage, namely that marriage is the union between one man and one woman.”
A marriage ceremony is, according to the old language, which is good language, a solemnization. Don’t know that it says that on the program very often anymore, but the old liturgies that pastors look at would say, you know, the liturgy for the solemnization of marriage. Because the joining together in marriage is a solemn business. What God has joined together, let no one separate. Every marriage I have ever performed I have said those words from Jesus: What God has joined together, let no one separate.
It’s the solemnization. It’s a serious thing. And when you come and you attend a wedding, part of what you’re doing there is to bear witness to the solemnization of this covenant union. In the old language, you know, used to say, “If anyone has reasons that they should not be married, speak now or forever hold your peace.” People don’t usually say that anymore. But the minister probably says at the beginning, when they’re making the vows, “before God and these witnesses.”
So you understand then this helps you think about, because we all have to face this. What sort of weddings do I go to now? What sort of ceremonies do I go to? Your presence there is not merely to say “I love you.” There are lots of ways you could say to people “I love you.” You can call them up on the phone and say “I love you and I’m here for you and I want to have a relationship with you.” A wedding ceremony is a solemnization where people make vows before God and witnesses who are here to bear witness to God that yes, this is a good union.
Which means if the two people ought not to be married, or if it is two men or two women, such that the Bible would not countenance as a true marriage, that we ought not to give our solemnization nor our celebration nor bear witness as much as we may want to say, “I still care for you and I want to have a relationship with you.”
Jesus understands that this marriage business is serious, and divorce is no little thing.
Our world thinks otherwise. I found this article some time ago, a few years ago. It’s called the “The Only Eight Times It’s Excusable to Leave Someone You Truly Love.” Only eight. Someone you truly love? Well, right there you have a different definition of love. Someone you truly love, but you have to leave them.
Number one – You’re unhappy and it’s clearly because of the relationship.
Number two – The good times are outweighed by the bad.
Number three – You don’t see yourself spending your life with your partner.
Four – You have lost your trust in your partner.
Can I just do a parentheses here? You don’t have to use the world’s language and say “partner.” It’s a husband, a wife. You have a business partner. You only get one husband, you only get one wife, but end of rant. You have lost your trust in your partner.
Five – Your partner doesn’t treat you the way you deserve to be treated.
Six – Your partner cheated on you.
Well, that one Jesus talks about.
Seven – Here’s a reason you can leave your partner. You fell in love with someone else.
Or eight – You are not capable of loving your partner the way your partner deserves.
These are the only eight times it’s excusable.
I don’t see how anyone would not be excused for leaving their spouse based upon those eight reasons. You don’t think there’s a time in every marriage where it seems like the bad might be outweighing the good, or you don’t feel like you’re getting what you deserved? Or you don’t feel like you can give all that the person wants from you?
This is how our world thinks. Marriage is for personal satisfaction. For personal fulfillment. And when it becomes devoid of that satisfaction and fulfillment, it is excusable to leave the person you truly love, how you truly love them remains to be seen.
So Jesus says, to them and to us, “Have you considered the seriousness of divorce?”
Here’s the second point: They failed to consider the ramifications of divorce.
The ramifications. Look at Matthew 5:32. Jesus makes a curious argument: “Everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Why that logic, Jesus? If you are illegitimately divorced, the logic is therefore the remarriage is illegitimate. This doesn’t mean that you’re not truly divorced, no, you are, but it means you should not have been divorced. The covenant should not have been severed. Consequently, you should not be married to someone else and that means if you are remarried, then the new sexual relationship is tantamount to adultery.
So Jesus’ argument here assumes a middle step, namely, that when you are divorced you get remarried. He’s assuming you get divorced and you get remarried. Therefore, He says, when you’re divorced and you shouldn’t have been, and then you get remarried, you’re an adulterer because you’re in a sexual relationship you have no business being in, or if you divorced your wife and you shouldn’t have, and then you presume she gets remarried, you’re making her into an adulteress.
Of course, this leads to all sorts of complications. Well, what do I do now that I’m in this marriage relationship? And drawing from the example that Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 7 about remain as you are, sometimes we make tragic mistakes, sometimes we make them even before we’re Christians. Paul would not have us try to undo all of these factors, but he says, to warn against divorce, that you don’t want to put yourself or your spouse in a position to be an adulterer by remarrying.
If the covenant bonds were not truly and lawfully severed, then to bring yourself into a union with someone else in marriage is to commit adultery. Yes, remarriage is permissible when divorce is permissible. Yes, clearly, we see from the Old Testament and from 1 Corinthians 7 that remarriage is permissible when your spouse dies. But when divorce was not permissible, remarriage is not permissible, and when remarriage takes place, it is tantamount to divorce.
Jesus would have us think of the serious ramifications. You have to think not only of your sin, but the sin you may be causing others to commit because of your sin. That’s how seriously Jesus treats the sexual act within marriage.
Sometimes Christians get the unfair reputation of being anti-sex. Actually, we’re the only ones who understand just how sacred the activity is. It is the people who put virtually no boundaries upon the sexual act who are actually demeaning it. We know the secret of the ages, that sexual intimacy is the most wonderful, most hallowed, most dangerous act that can take place between a man and a woman, which is why it is reserved for that lifelong commitment between one man and one woman.
Here’s another bad article I found. This is from The New Republic, by an author named Helen Croyden. She’s written a number of books and columns. It’s called “A Serious Argument for Ditching Monogamy.” I’ll just, spoiler alert, it’s not very serious. But here’s what she says. I’ll just summarize. She says for starters, “We’re living longer. A woman born in 1850 could expect her marriage to last 29 years. Now couples can expect to take tea breaks together for 30 years after the kids leave home – what an inordinate sentence,” she says.
And she goes on: “There’s a little noted fact that today’s social milieu doesn’t lend itself to the co-ordination and compromises demanded of traditionally coupledom.” She says, “We’ve been brought up to champion individuality and convenience, so when you have to then share your living space and make decisions with another person for your whole life,” she says, eh, we’re just not up to it. Well, perhaps some other things should change then.
She says later, “Like Cameron Diaz,” the actress who made some statements precipitating this article that she didn’t believe in monogamy, I guess, she says, “I, too, would rather retain my single status with a few rewarding lovers to fulfill different needs at different times of my life. Liberal, social attitudes mean monogamy for the sake of it is but a moral trinket.”
She goes on to say, “Science tells us that romantic infatuation does not last.” She says, “By the time you’ve been together for long enough to not close the bathroom door, to trim your toenails, you’re likely to find your eyes and your fantasies wander occasionally.”
So she holds out as a great example a couple that was about to get a divorce and then they decided instead they could just live in separate places and continue to invite people over to parties and didn’t have to be so anti-social. She says, “If you think lifelong commitment is still needed to start a family, a replacement for that has been found,” and she talks about the wonders of artificial insemination.
She closes this way: “We will continue to fall in love and to believe the feeling will last forever, but it’s time to modernize the rules and expectations. That means casting away the fairytale and facing up to the fact that a life partner—should we choose to have one—fulfills only one corner of our emotional, romantic and sexual needs. The belief that we can find one person to meet all of them is one which is very likely to be considered radical in the future.”
Well, on that final line, she may sadly be correct. That the idea that one person for a lifetime is the essence of marriage may, in fact, be considered radical in the future. But it should not be considered strange among Christians.
I hope you can see the assumption writ through everything that she wrote, and I don’t mean to pick on her except that it’s a perfect example of so much of our thinking these days. The assumption in all of those statements is that marriage exists solely for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is our personal fulfillment, and when it ceases to be personally fulfilling, you have every right to find that fulfillment some other way.
Of course, she’s right that science tells you that there’s a romantic infatuation period, that doesn’t last 50 years. It lasts a year and a half or two years. But talk to some of the couples here that have been married for 50 years and they’ll tell you, “Yeah, that changes, but you know what? After 50 years, the love that we have for one another is a whole lot better, a whole lot deeper, a whole lot richer, than what we had when we were all puppy-dog eyes for each other for those first few months and couple of years.” Yes, that’s a sweet, sweet time, and yet does anyone think that the husband or wife that loses a spouse of 50 years does not have more grief because they have experienced more love? They have experienced an intimacy and a commitment that is so much richer and higher and fuller than this sort of garbage that the world offers to us?
No, marriage may be personally fulfilling, but marriage is about personal commitment more than personal fulfillment. It is a relationship oriented toward children. It is one that is lived out as a picture of the Gospel and is meant to be lived to the glory of God. So no, it is not time to ditch monogamy. That does not work in God’s moral universe. It does not work in our emotional universe. It doesn’t do anything to help kids in our universe.
You know who it will hurt most? It will hurt women most. Monogamy is a civilizing effect on men. Monogamy is the partnership we have and the lifelong commitment oriented to children. Some of us are given the gift of children, some are not, but most as they are. All who have children ought to see that marriage is oriented toward the raising of a family.
We have come so far that we think of marriage first of all about our decisions and how they affect us and only subsequently about how they may affect others. Humanly speaking, there is nothing more important for personal well-being, positive social behavior, and general success in life than to be raised by one’s biological parents committed to each other in a stable marriage.
Now we understand that’s often not possible. Death intervenes. Divorce is sometimes not our choice but is forced upon us. We have mercy and grace upon all who have to live in those circumstances. Yet we should not discount how God has made us and how God has wired His moral universe.
You can go find this research yourself. Over the past 40 years a vast body of research has demonstrated conclusively that children are deeply affected by family structure, and that married parents are best for children.
One study from 2003 notes children not living with both biological parents were roughly twice as likely to be poor, to have birth outside of marriage, to have behavioral and psychological problems, to not graduate from high school.
Another study found children in single-parent homes more likely to experience health problems, accidents, injuries, poisonings.
And single parents are not all equal. Children of widowed parents did much better than children in families with divorced or cohabiting parents. Children of divorced parents are 2-1/2 times as likely to have serious social, emotional, or psychological problems. Children in cohabiting families are at a higher risk of poor outcomes and a whole host of emotional, societal, educational, behavioral, mental, and cognitive categories.
Now it’s hard to say all of that, because we want to be gracious to many people who through no fault of their own are not able to live in those circumstances, so we honor those who have had to make the best of it, and didn’t want to get divorced, didn’t want a husband to cheat on them, and many wonderful step-parents and step-moms and dads in this church. We celebrate, of course, loudly and clearly the picture of the Gospel that is adoption.
Yet we must say, lest we miss the way in which God has made us and created the universe, that children, all of the research shows, do best across dozens of categories, when they are raised by a mom and dad who love each other and stay together. We need to hear that lest we think, lest anyone here on the verge of divorce, thinking about it, perhaps sometime later this sermon will stick in your mind when you say, “Well, but, Pastor doesn’t know how miserable I am right now. He doesn’t know what sort of person I’m living with.” And you’ll think about what Jesus says and you’ll think even more about some of these common grace insights that tell us of the serious ramifications.
Many of us don’t understand in our culture what marriage is. No-fault divorce laws, the sexual revolution, the push for gay so-called marriage. They aren’t just bad for marriage; they reflect a different conception of what marriage even is.
Which brings us, finally, I said to connect the dots between these two verses on divorce and the next paragraph on oaths. Each one of these categories Jesus is dealing with some teachers who wanted to make God’s ways more manageable, and Jesus cuts right through the sophistry. There were all sorts of people who were saying, “Well, here’s how you can get around being completely honest.” But Jesus says, “No, we must be careful with our words. We must weigh all of our words.”
He says, “All your fancy oaths, all your swearing by your hair on your head or by your loose tooth or by the gold of the temple, it’s all nonsense. Let your yes be yes, your no be no.”
Are you reliable? Do people assume that they can’t trust your word unless you super-duper pinky swear? You know some of us have this saying, and I’ve had this verbal tic before, “Well, to be completely honest with you,” as if everything what I normally do is he, but now to be completely honest…
Jesus says, “No.” Is your word like rock or like Play-Doh? Is it a rock, fixed, immovable, you can count on it, or is like malleable? I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant’s faithful 100%. Is that true of you?
Well, I won’t steal Andrew’s sermon next week about oaths and about telling the truth, but I hope you can see very quickly the connection and why Jesus goes from divorce to oaths. He wants to say to His disciples and to these disciples, “When you got married, you promised something. You promised before your friends, before your family, you promised to each other, you promised before God Himself to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, to be faithful to him, to be faithful to her, as long as you both shall live, and you promised to forsake all others. You promised to be with him for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health until death parts you.”
Every parent, you’ve had this experience that we had this past week, being woken in the middle of the night on consecutive nights to the sound of bleeeechhh, with children. ___ from us, thankfully, but children scrambling in. They often seem to find the white carpet wherever it is and by the end of the week all the children, even the ones who weren’t sick, were sleeping with bowls just in case by their bed. Parents, you’ve had that experience, and one falls and another falls, and you’re up at 3:30 in the morning, you’re changing sheets and you’re scrubbing out throw-up in the carpet and you’re putting stuff outside and lighting candles for better, for worse.
We live in a day when words are cheap. They’re everywhere and they’re devalued. God communicates by words. He hallows the whole sphere of language and communication. He considers it an extension of His being, which is why He said, “The Word became flesh.” To reflect the character of God, we speak true words and we take great pains to say what we mean and mean what we say.
If God hates divorce, it is because He loves married couples, He loves their children, and He loves for promises made to be promises kept.
Let me end with some encouragement for you, married couples, those who will be married perhaps someday. There’s all sorts of ways that we can change the world. We’re entering into graduation season. You’ll probably hear all sorts, you’ll be at a graduation at some point and someone will talk about how you need to go out and change the world. Now, that’s fine. You can dream big dreams and have all sorts of wonderful great things you want to do. That’s good, don’t lose your idealism.
But one of the most significant things you can ever do in life is to get married, have children if God grants you children, and to stay married.
Now I understand marriage doesn’t always come. Divorce is not always our choice. Spouses sometimes die. Children don’t always follow, even when we pray for them. That’s why we believe in adoption, why we believe in second chances, why we believe that God has a good plan in all things. But insofar as most people will marry and have children, you need to hear that getting married, staying married, raising children in the Lord, is no small thing. You come to church on Sunday morning, you come to church on Sunday night, and you bring your kids with you and they know that you love them and you love each other, that’s no exaggeration, how the world changes.
One of the biggest and best things we can ever do for the Church, for our country, for the kingdom of God, is just that. After the Gospel, which is of course most important, after the Gospel there is no bigger gift you can give to the world than your children, and no bigger gift you can give to your children than to be raised by a mom and dad who love them and love each other and by God’s grace stay together until death do us part.
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, give grace to everyone here who needs grace. Grace of forgiveness, grace to keep pressing on in circumstances they would not have chosen and did not choose. Grace to continue to pursue faithfulness when they’re single and want to be married, or they’re married and they want to have children. Grace for the couples that are feeling as if they’ve reached the end. Would You do a resurrection work in husband, in wife? Oh, life is painful. Sometimes nothing is more painful than how we can hurt one another as a spouse, but give us hope that You, O Lord, can give us grace to restore the years the locusts have eaten, to restore that which has been tainted by our own sin and foolishness, and what You have brought together, O Lord, let no one separate. In Jesus we pray. Amen.